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Rolls-Royce Eyes Autonomous Ships, Expects Remote-Controlled Cargo Ships By 2020 (pcmag.com) 147

An anonymous reader writes from a report via PC Magazine: Speaking at a recent symposium in Amsterdam, Rolls-Royce vice president of innovation for marine, Oskar Levander, said, "The technologies needed to make remote and autonomous ships a reality exist." In partnership with the Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications Initiative (AAWA) project, Rolls-Royce, DNV GL, Inmarsat, Deltamarin, NAPA, Brighthouse Intelligence, Finferries, and ESL Shipping are leading the $7 million effort. Unmanned ships could save money, weight, and space, making way for more cargo and improving reliability and productivity, the AAWA said in a recent white paper. "The increased level of safety onboard will be provided by additional systems," Rolls-Royce said on its website. "Our future solutions will reduce need for human-machine interaction by automating selected tasks and processes, whilst keeping the human at the center of critical decision making and onboard expertise." Initial testing of sensor arrays in a range of operating and climatic conditions is already underway in Finland. Phase II of the project will continue through the end of 2017. Rolls-Royce plans to launch the first remote-controlled cargo ships by 2020, with autonomous boats in the water within the next two decades. Rolls-Royce was in the news last week when they unveiled their first driverless vehicle called The Vision Next 100.
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Rolls-Royce Eyes Autonomous Ships, Expects Remote-Controlled Cargo Ships By 2020

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  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @07:30PM (#52402519) Homepage Journal

    Remote controlled/autonomous ships near the Horn of Africa...

    Fine, the pirates board, but they can't commandeer the ship, it's still going where the shipping company wants it.

    Of course, that only lasts until someone breaks the remote control protocol and sells it to the pirates.

    • Or the pirates find a way to cut the data link (likely just need to due some rain fade / knock the dish out of alignment).

      • Or the pirates find a way to cut the data link (likely just need to due some rain fade / knock the dish out of alignment).

        or the pirates hack into the system and sit there in china or russia and steer the ships into their dock in somalia.

    • Isn't it a good way to get killed by drones or poisonous gas or something like that if 100% of the people on board are certifiable bad guys?
      • Commonly that's not seen as a good way. In such situation, the use of deadly force is deemed acceptable in defence of the crew IIRC (and even then often not used, for fear of escalation). But if there is no crew... This is a bit like setting booby traps in your home to nail burglars: if the trap actuall injures or kills the burglar, you're off to jail according to the law in a good many countries.
        • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @08:54PM (#52402857)

          This is a bit like setting booby traps in your home to nail burglars:

          Two big differences: booby traps often get unintended targets. the drones or gas here would happen only after a human verifies they are real pirates on board, and not just stowaways. Secondly, the law for piracy on the high seas has always been very different to burglary. You don't hang burglars. But lethal force against pirates is fine by me. Its not like you can sent the village constable around to question them.
           

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          The response to piracy was entirely pusillanimous.

          Shipping companies should have been allowed armed guards, you might have even called them "marines" and if fired upon by a pirate ship they should have been allowed to return fire. Even in Somalia, piracy would have been filed away as a bad idea and would have come to an end before it became a thing.

          Any oceangoing ship in calm enough waters to board from a small boat is a stable enough platform to fire .50 BMG rounds from and .50 BMG rounds have enough dist

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Jzanu ( 668651 )
            Nope, all arming merchant ships did historically was increase costs. The best value in concentration of force is a Navy, and it's action is not for purely material protection without real risk to life. Despite your ultra-violent fantasies the real world works very differently, and the only outcome for what you propose is an arms race that results in more unnecessary deaths, and only increasing losses to shipping increasing insurance costs.
          • by tsotha ( 720379 )

            Shipping companies did employ armed security that did indeed fire on pirates when the Somali problem was at its peak. You can find video on the web.

            The big problem is the weapons you're carrying have to be legal in both the country you're shipping from and the country you're shipping to. Since so much of it was destined for Europe, where almost every weapon is illegal, your options are limited. Most of the security companies operating in that region had their own boats to move guards - they would board

            • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

              Shipping companies did employ armed security that did indeed fire on pirates when the Somali problem was at its peak. You can find video on the web.

              The big problem is the weapons you're carrying have to be legal in both the country you're shipping from and the country you're shipping to. Since so much of it was destined for Europe, where almost every weapon is illegal, your options are limited. Most of the security companies operating in that region had their own boats to move guards - they would board with their weapons in international waters and debark with their weapons in international waters.

              They solved that problem by just throwing the weapons overboard. Half a dozen AR-15s, a couple rifles in .308 or 30-06 and 1k rounds for each is two day's pay for the guys doing security. A trivial extra cost.

              Anyway, this is a self-inflicted problem. Africans are going to do that stuff. Letting it continue caused it to continue. Had they shot at the first dozen attempts there wouldn't be a problem at all.

              • If anything, the presence of our Navy (Dutch) is encouraging them. No shots are fired, pirates are arrested and shipped to the Netherlands where they are convicted, after which they can apply for asylum. Beats crossing the Mediterranean in a leaky boat and paying thousands for the privilege.
              • Shipping companies did employ armed security that did indeed fire on pirates when the Somali problem was at its peak. You can find video on the web.

                The big problem is the weapons you're carrying have to be legal in both the country you're shipping from and the country you're shipping to. Since so much of it was destined for Europe, where almost every weapon is illegal, your options are limited. Most of the security companies operating in that region had their own boats to move guards - they would board with their weapons in international waters and debark with their weapons in international waters.

                They solved that problem by just throwing the weapons overboard. Half a dozen AR-15s, a couple rifles in .308 or 30-06 and 1k rounds for each is two day's pay for the guys doing security. A trivial extra cost.

                Anyway, this is a self-inflicted problem. Africans are going to do that stuff. Letting it continue caused it to continue. Had they shot at the first dozen attempts there wouldn't be a problem at all.

                alternately, if the big factory fishing fleets hadn't overfished the waters off somalia which had been the foundation of the region's economy for hundreds of years, thereby forcing the seagoing population into other lines of work there wouldn't be a problem either.

        • by eth1 ( 94901 )

          Commonly that's not seen as a good way. In such situation, the use of deadly force is deemed acceptable in defence of the crew IIRC (and even then often not used, for fear of escalation). But if there is no crew... This is a bit like setting booby traps in your home to nail burglars: if the trap actuall injures or kills the burglar, you're off to jail according to the law in a good many countries.

          I would imagine a totally autonomous ship could have all internal spaces kept flooded with nitrogen or carbon dioxide as a fire suppression measure. No need for poison or anything malicious, when anyone that goes in without proper gear suffocates.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )
          Under international law pirates are hostis humani generis. What you do to them in international waters is constrained only by the flag you're flying and the amount of bad PR you're willing to put up with.
        • I doubt that the customers would want poison gas seeping into their products during shipping, even if Loyd's was up for the idea; but it wouldn't be a complete surprise to hear of an unmanned bulk carrier of some sort being flushed with dry nitrogen as a preservative; and some idiots encountering inert gas asphyxiation.
          • I doubt that the customers would want poison gas seeping into their products during shipping, even if Loyd's was up for the idea; but it wouldn't be a complete surprise to hear of an unmanned bulk carrier of some sort being flushed with dry nitrogen as a preservative; and some idiots encountering inert gas asphyxiation.

            if leonardo and kate can have sex in some guy's car on the Titanic, i don't see why filling it with nitrogen would be an objectionable alternative.

      • For centuries, pirates were considered hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race, and any ship could arrest pirates on the high seas, try them, and execute them. A trial was required (if at all possible) because pirate ships often included people who were kidnapped or otherwise coerced to join the crew. Still today, on the high seas any nation may arrest and try pirates, but certain human rights protections have been added by treaty.

        International piracy law in general refers to piracy on the high se

        • For centuries, pirates were considered hostis humani generis, enemies of the human race, and any ship could arrest pirates on the high seas, try them, and execute them. A trial was required (if at all possible) because pirate ships often included people who were kidnapped or otherwise coerced to join the crew. Still today, on the high seas any nation may arrest and try pirates, but certain human rights protections have been added by treaty.

          International piracy law in general refers to piracy on the high seas (international waters). Most modern piracy occurs in territorial waters, though. In territorial waters, the nation who controls that territoy has jurisdiction and has the option to authorize any action. An exception is Somalia, which has a bad problem with piracy. Treaties allow signatory nations to take "all necessary measures that are appropriate in Somalia for the purpose of suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea". "All necessary measures" is generally thought to mean that unless lethal force is NECESSARY, it's not allowed. However, pirates shoot at people trying to arrest them, so lethal force is often necessary.

          "The violent crime rate related to fishing boats is easily 20 times that of crimes involving tankers, cargo ships or passenger ships, said Charles N. Dragonette, who tracked seafaring attacks globally for the United States Office of Naval Intelligence until 2012. “So long as the victims were Indonesian, Malay, Vietnamese, Filipino, just not European or American, the story never resonated,” he said.
          Prosecutions for crimes at sea are rare — one former United States Coast Guard official put

      • Isn't it a good way to get killed by drones or poisonous gas or something like that if 100% of the people on board are certifiable bad guys?

        cover the entire ship inside and out with something emitting hard radiation when it leaves port. not sure how to unload it when it gets where it's going though

      • No need to kill the bad guys, In the event of boarding or link disruption just disable the engine and let the ship sit dead in the water until help arrives. If they can't run it, they can't steal it. The most they could do would be to start offloading the cargo, which would be pretty difficult and time-consuming at sea.
    • Robot 765432 : *Oh no you have captured Robot 4858743. I must do as you command"

      Pirate "Ah Ha Ha!"

      Robot 765432 "JK we have a thousand more just like him back at the factory. BT We are now pumping toxic gas through the the vents, hope you didn't need air or anything squishbag. HA HA HA*

    • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @08:43PM (#52402799)
      Speaking as an experienced sailor, this [whitelawtwining.com] is by far the biggest problem with autonomous ships.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I was thinking of the far more logical. If automated ships are possible, then why do current vessels not sail with just four crew members. Four pilots to steer the vessel, each taking a shift and one spare. Apparently a whole lot of maintenance needs to be carried out to keep those vessels going. Think of the profound stupid of Rolls Royce managements, seriously profound stupid. You have a multi-million dollar automated vessel, that needs maintenance, so what do you do, you stop it idle in port, doing fuck

        • Think of the profound stupid of Rolls Royce managements, seriously profound stupid

          Perhaps the thinking is automated bots to repair the automated bots, automated bots to repair those bots and so on. "Automated bots all the way down." ;)

  • Some pirate somewhere is salivating at the thought of unmanned ships. I wonder if they are giving any thought to fending off pirates with an autonomous ship.
    • IDK, the crew of ships these days doesn't have that much capabilities to fend off pirates anyway. So I doubt much will change, except that pirates won't be able to kidnap humans, only non-living stuff.

  • Until the ship gets infected with the Da Vinci as a ruse to blame innocent hackers because they copied the garbage file
  • I rather suspect they've spent more on PR about the project than in R&D if that's all they're actually investment.

    I wouldn't call that a "strong move" on their part, not by a longshot. What's that, .001% of their non-automotive, non-nuclear, market cap?

    • I rather suspect they've spent more on PR about the project than in R&D if that's all they're actually investment.

      I wouldn't call that a "strong move" on their part, not by a longshot. What's that, .001% of their non-automotive, non-nuclear, market cap?

      RR R&D PR

  • by dlleigh ( 313922 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @07:46PM (#52402595)

    Unmanned ships could save money, weight, and space...

    Seriously? The crew and crew quarters take up a significant fraction of the operating budget, weight and volume of a modern cargo ship? I'm not buying it.

    Take a look at some of these ships: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Container_ship [wikipedia.org]

    • You've obviously never met a shipowner. They are beyond cheap. If they can save $5 by making the crew miserable, they'll do it.
  • and Remote Rolls-Royce, too. sweet
  • Never happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @07:58PM (#52402631)

    40% of a ships maintencence needs are done at sea, while under way. They can shut down parts of the engine to do maintencence on the ocean.

    An remote controlled ship would spend more time at dock than current models.

    And that is why remote ships won't set sail. Not pirates or crew costs but time spent being repaired at sea saves too much money.

    • Also, still have to maintain manual override for harbor pilots. The chances of LA or NY allowing an autonomous large ship down their difficult to navigate entryways and, channels, and turns is slim to none.

  • Electronic Charts and Display Information Systems [wikipedia.org] are old news (ca 1990). These smartish autopilots were required for large vessels in the wake of the Valdez disaster. [wikipedia.org] There will always be a critical need for crew on board to handle unexpected failures: anybody see Our Finest Hour"? [wikipedia.org]
  • What could go wrong with having huge autonomous supertankers and cargo ship meandering about the ocean with no human guidance? Nothing, nothing could possibly go wrong.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      They're already on autopilot with GPS navigation most of the time anyway. I doubt anyone would notice if the crew stayed home.
      • They're already on autopilot with GPS navigation most of the time anyway. I doubt anyone would notice if the crew stayed home.

        True, but at least they can have a bridge watch to be sure they are safe. Iron Mike is a boon to sailors but given the consequences of a collision at sea you still need someone to be repaired to take control in the event something unexpected happens.

  • Most of the comments are about pirates. Have you guys been living under a rock or what? Do you not know that the MPAA and RIAA have created all the technology required to defend against pirates?

  • by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @09:40PM (#52403045) Homepage

    Fly a drone onto a ship with a GPS jammer. Flip the coordinates around so that it thinks it's going to New York but is really going to Jamaica. The whole time it's transmitting the fake coordinates back to the control office where they think it's on schedule. By the time they realize it's not there, it's already been unloaded and the goods moved on.

  • I don't think this will happen, as most cargo ships are crewed by slave labour. Unless Rolls Royce can make this cheaper than the cost of labour, (which is really, really low) the ship owners won't be interested.
  • Military Involved (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Monday June 27, 2016 @11:57PM (#52403601)
    You can bet your last penny that the Navy and naval forces around the world are already onto this idea. In essence a man ship acts as a tow and tender until somewhat near the conflict point. Then a sort of automated battle barge goes under its own power a couple of hundred miles and assumes a position and holds it. The design probably allows waves to slosh over the deck and has sides meant to deflect torpedoes. An example could be to control the entrance to a harbor. It could also be well equipped with missiles and drones to attack cities. I also would not be shocked if these battle barges are not able to sit silently on the ocean floor until ordered to rise to the surface and take action. Since no human life support is required they can sit in total silence for quite a long time if need be. It keeps troops out of harm's way and can effectively kill enemies. I would think that several Navies are already far along with something along these lines.
  • The driver-less Rolls was from Rolls Royce cars, which is just a BMW brand these days.

    This announcement is from the Rolls Royce who make plane engines, submarine reactors, ship power plants and all sorts of other stuff but no cars.

  • One is a German owned car company, the other a more general engineering company producing aeroplane engines and marine equipment, thus this report

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    v

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    Now totally unrelated companies

  • "I'm sorry, Abduwali, I'm afraid I can't do that. I am the captain now." (Hal; probably).

    Hell.. combine this with a few of the robots from "Runaway" and "Screamers" you have defense _AND_ repair!

  • We wouldn't want another Juan Valdez dark matter spill! Just say No! to sober robots!

    http://pixa.club/en/futurama/s... [pixa.club]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

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